Japan and the 'Axis of Evil'
John de Boer (University of Tokyo)
Before embarking on his six-day trip to East Asia President George W. Bush left Alaska telling US military personnel that he was going to emphasize US resolve not to rest until terrorism had been destroyed. He claimed to be embarking on a journey that would garner support for his 'axis of evil' so that he could move on to the next phase of his war and the troops cheered him on. However, what Bush encountered was a region far more attuned and sensitive to the consequences of his simplistic and dangerous policy. Newspapers around the globe covered Japan's reception of Bush's 'axis of evil' policy and the reports were far from congruous. The following are excerpts from several of the most influential.
Reports from the Washington Post claimed loud and clear that, "Koizumi endorsed Washington's condemnation of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an 'axis of evil'". It portrayed a proud Bush that "stood by his 'axis of evil' comments" asserting that US allies "understood our point" (Mike Allen and Clay Chandler, Feb 18). Although the Associated Press' Sandra Sobieraj did not totally agree she wrote that, "the leaders of Japan neither criticized Bush's view, nor did they embrace them". She quoted President Bush as saying, "Japan understood our commitment is not just in Afghanistan" (Feb 22). The view from Singapore was similar stating that, "Japan, a staunch US ally was careful not to appear critical of Mr. Bush's 'axis of evil' characterization" (Singapore Straits Times, Feb. 18). The BBC reported that, "if Japan is upset about the 'axis of evil' approach they did not show it" (Paul Reynolds, Feb. 22).
These reports seem to have missed an important reality that was fortunately picked up by other newspapers. Even before Bush set foot in Japan, Canada's Globe and Mail noted that Bush's "harsh rhetoric was creating some headaches for Japan, which has friendly ties with Iran, a major oil supplier, and is striving to normalize diplomatic relations with North Korea" (Feb. 16). Reporting on Bush's reception in Japan, the Irish Times highlighted demonstrations in Tokyo against this US policy. It also quoted Japan's Defense Minister, General Nakatani, as expressing reservations about aligning Japan with this policy when he stated that, "the issue of Tokyo's support for any US military operation against Iraq or beyond Afghanistan would depend on whether there were proven links to the September 11 attacks on Washington and New York" (Miriam Donohoe, Feb 18). Another accurate depiction was given by Robin Wright and Mark Magnier in their LA Times article which announced to America that, "Bush's comments have increased regional tensions and have displayed a complete disregard for local sensitivities". The article went on to inform that, "for many Japanese, Bush's good-versus-evil language is unsettling on less concrete grounds, as the product of a world view that sees black and white but doesn't always seem to appreciate the area in between where most people live" (Feb. 19).
What Bush came face to face with in Japan was a country home to 1.7 million residents of Korean decent, a nation that plays host to 53,000 US troops who would represent the front-line in any regional conflict and a population averse to conflict in general and profoundly against any sort of regional war. Towards the end of his trip it seemed as though Bush and his administration had gotten the point that war rhetoric was not welcome in this region. Nevertheless, judging from the reports of some very influential newspapers, this message may have not gotten through to the US and to many in other parts of the world. Let's hope that the lessons learnt by Bush and his administration remain entrenched in their memory when deciding on what action they are going to take against their 'axis of evil'.
- Paul Reynolds, "Bush's Asian Tour Calms Fears", British Broadcast Corporation, February 22, 2002
- Sandra Sobieraj, "Powell: Bush's tough talk worked", The Associated Press, February 22, 2002
- Robin Wright and Mark Magnier, "Bush is dogged by 'Axis of Evil' in visit to Japan", LA Times, February 19, 2002
- Kwan Weng Kim, "Bush wins continued support for anti-terror fight", Singapore Straits Times, February 18, 2002
- Miriam Donohoe, "Protests over 'axis of evil' greet Bush in Japan", The Irish Times, February 18